She’s All That: Exploring Lipstick Theory, the Beauty Industry, and the Purchasing Power of Women

Whether it’s from a personal, professional, or economic viewpoint, the achievements of women often go overlooked in favour of our male counterparts. Take sports for example. Male athletes will simply be referred to as “the greatest athlete of all time,” but female athletes are “the greatest woman athlete”—even if their accomplishments are more notable. It feels as though there’s always an asterisk for the accomplishments of women, trying to find a way to diminish our success.

But to do so is to simply ignore facts. Ignore prominence. Ignore power. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez captured it perfectly, when she said “any attempt to make femininity trivial or unimportant is an attempt to take away my power. So I’m going to wear the red lipstick.”

The history and impact of Lipstick Theory

Red lipstick signifies more than just a style choice or bold statement. It’s an indicator of economic change. There are stats that specifically connect an uptick of sales in lipstick to an impending recession. In 2022, Forbes noted that as a recession was threatening, the sale of lipstick and “other lip makeup” grew 48% year-over-year in the first quarter. That’s twice as fast as any other beauty products. In 2023, the analytic firm Circana reported an 18% increase in Canadian beauty sales—again, even as the country was on the verge of recession. 

This is what’s known as the Lipstick Effect, or Lipstick Theory. 

Originally brought forward in 1998 by Juliet Schor in her book, The Overspent American, the theory is that during times of economic hardship, “[women] are looking for affordable luxury, the thrill of buying in an expensive department store.” Plus, they’re more likely to buy higher-end brands for beauty items they’ll be seen using in public, while the at-home items are an area where they can save. They’ll buy a high-end tube of lipstick, knowing it’ll be applied at work, bars, restaurants, etc., and in turn buy lower-end products they’ll use at home, like moisturizer, face wash, and serums. 

This can carry over more broadly, suggesting as money becomes tight, people are more willing to splurge on a “little treat” that makes them feel special rather than a big-ticket item. But at its core, it’s a fascinating look at how the beauty industry—a space predominantly held by women—can be used to predict, navigate, and analyze the overall economic market. 

Understanding the purchasing power of women

While the beauty industry might be the most well-researched area of how and when they spend, women have extreme purchasing power in other areas. When the 50 Shades of Grey book series was released in 2012, it couldn’t stay on the shelves. Neither could the adult toys associated with the content. The purchases directly related to the growing popularity of the books actually helped bring Britain out of recession by 1%. Three books. That’s all it took to create the biggest market stimulant of the time. 

While that may be a funny example to use, the overall message is clear. The purchasing power and spending habits of women are extremely valuable indicators of economic health, and can lead to noticeable changes.

Need more convincing? Here are some stats: 

It’s not “just lipstick.”

The ugly truth of the beauty industry

If we’re looking towards the beauty industry as an economic indicator, then we need to fully understand what the beauty industry brings, and look a little more closely at why women feel obligated to keep up with beauty trends even in times of financial crisis. While it would be nice to believe every cosmetic purchase is born out of a love for one’s self and a desire to express creativity through makeup, societal pressures would point to that not being the case. 

Between the “#NoMakeup” movement being a constant undercurrent, and the latest boom of “Sephora Kids” taking over, there’s not only contradicting messaging being pushed on women, but also extreme pressures to be up to date with the latest trends—or else. 

Does no makeup really mean no makeup?

One of the most prominent showings of beauty industry contradictions is the #NoMakeup movement, which has been around for years now. The premise is that women choosing to wear no makeup are embracing their natural beauty, signaling to society or to themselves that they’re comfortable and confident in their own natural skin.

Going truly no-makeup involves little to no beauty work. It’s liberating in that it literally frees up your time and money. But this new #NoMakeup movement does the opposite. Unrealistic dermatology appointments, expensive serums and acids—to name a few—costing way more, ironically, than just applying the makeup you’re now supposed to reject. 

Alicia Keys famously announced she was going makeup free in 2016, saying her decision to go bare-faced was to combat her own superficial feelings towards beauty and the constant pressures to live up to other peoples’ expectations of her. She no longer wanted to cover up, and instead wanted to be her authentic self. Alicia Keys’ no-makeup routine was reported to have cost $455 which included “ice work to tighten the skin” and grated cucumber face masks (and much, much more).

Does this mean “no-makeup beauty” is just an extensive skincare routine that makes your skin more perfect, so you don’t need makeup? And doesn’t that undermine the entire purpose of the movement? Not to mention that most serums, creams, and treatments make the movement more daunting to those who can’t afford these types of luxuries. Is it gently and subtly signaling that the sort of beauty that is available to the masses, is therefore not beauty at all? The sort of expensive, behind-the-scenes upkeep needed to achieve this new, idealized no-makeup is now the new height of beauty? 

Rosanna Smith, a lead author of a research study that examined the relationship between the rise of the #NoMakeup movement from 2009 to 2016 and its correlation with makeup sales in the United States, said the #NoMakeup movement actually exacerbates a key tension that women have to manage. 

“I don’t know how much natural beauty movements actually help women,” Smith said. 

So the issue isn’t make-up. It’s the beauty industry and the system it operates under, and the rhetoric that keeps women in a constant state of questioning their worth through the lens of beauty. 

Makeup, no makeup, makeup, no makeup. It does two things: it keeps women buying whatever the latest product or regime is to meet the standard society dictates, and it keeps women competing against each other—continuing the giant wheel of oppression that puts women’s physical appearance at the forefront of their worth.

The role of brand in society 

There is a valid argument for makeup as a form of self expression, and basic grooming as self care and necessary for your health and functioning. But the large majority of beauty standards are about oppression and power, and we are participating in our own oppression by adhering to the standards without question. 

Brands play an important role in dictating a fair amount of the social narrative surrounding beauty. If consumers choose brands that are a direct reflection of their own set of beliefs, isn’t there a phenomenal opportunity for brands to speak up and engage consumers on a different set of values? 

In today’s society brands should draw attention to these cultural issues in a bid to promote more equality and inclusivity, and empower women rather than continue to divide and oppress. It’s up to brands to step into something of substance and adopt a rhetoric that says “buy our products, or don’t buy our products, just don’t buy into the feeling you have to.” And moreover, it’s up to the people buying those products to sit back and ask “why”?

Harnessing this knowledge as an industry

The importance of Lipstick Theory is two-fold. First, it’s a fascinating look into spending as a whole and how purchasing decisions can be driven by a desire for luxury while experiencing an economic downturn. But it’s also an eye-opening view into how we as branding and marketing professionals should be embracing the female audience even when the product or service isn’t specifically targeted at women. The product may not be for them, but the purchase is statistically likely to cross their purview, so don’t discount decision-making power they hold. 

These are some things to consider:

  • Invest in research about the challenges your female audience may be facing. The easiest way to pose a solution is to understand the problem.
  • Identify how you can make their lives easier or more efficient. As the person in charge of household spending, not to mention many other responsibilities, getting time back can be a large swaying factor.
  • Appeal to the unique experiences of being a woman without pandering. Don’t try and force something, be authentic.
  • Include women in the process throughout your entire ideation, development, and deployment process. It’s extremely evident when an advertisement for women is created by men.
  • Avoid societal stereotypes. Anecdotally, advertisements where Mom is the buzzkill while Dad is the fun parent read tone-deaf and jurassic.
  • Respect not only their time, but their intelligence. Belittling, condescension, and assumptions of inferiority aren’t going to take you far. 

And for the love of God, don’t make everything pink. 


culture - industry

Small but Meaningful Ways To Be a More Inclusive Marketer

Sexual orientation, race, ability, age – the consumer population is hardly homogenous, yet 72% of people feel most advertising doesn’t reflect the world around them.

It’s curious, isn’t it? As marketers, we spend so much time trying to convince people we understand them. Their challenges and needs. Their hopes and dreams. But isn’t it all phony-baloney if they don’t see themselves reflected in our marketing?

There’s a lesson here: we need to be trying harder to build meaningful connections with our audiences, and inclusive marketing plays an important role.

What’s inclusive marketing?

Inclusive marketing acknowledges that your audience consists of different groups of people. It’s about being intentional with the words you chose, the types of people you show in your creative (38% of consumers are more likely to trust brands that show diversity in their ads, and 64% are more likely to buy their products), and how you design your experiences to be accessible to everyone.

It’s the right way to operate, but it can’t stop at marketing.

Launching an ad campaign that features a queer couple is great, but if it’s not authentic – if you only champion the 2SLGBTQ+ community during pride month, for example – it can be seen as performative, an illusion of inclusion.

“Marginalized consumers want brands to prove they are worthy of their attention and dollars.”

—Sonia Thompson, Forbes

When it comes to being inclusive, consumers and stakeholders expect brands to take action beyond mere marketing. It boils down to trust.

And frankly, there’s a business case to be made: a recent Deloitte survey concluded that the highest-growing brands are “committed to achieving equitable outcomes across all their areas of influence – workforce, marketplace, and society – in ways their lower-growth peers are not.” It literally pays to do the right thing.

That said, a formal Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) plan doesn’t come together overnight. It’s a journey – one we’re still learning about ourselves – but that doesn’t mean you should wait to take honest action in your marketing.

Small steps you can take today.

  • Visual representation. One third of consumers have boycotted a brand at least once after feeling like their identities were excluded from a company’s ads.

    Be intentional with the models you use in your marketing and advertising. Ask yourself: are these subjects accurate avatars for my audience? Am I alienating anyone or exacerbating a stereotype? If you don’t have the answers, seek out the perspectives you need.

    For stock imagery, look beyond the traditional outlets. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) has done a great job with its Indigenous stock photo library. As have the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and Getty Images with their collaborative Disrupt Aging collection, which aims to challenge outdated stereotypes by more authentically representing people over the age of 50.
  • Accessible content. More than six million people over the age of 15 in Canada live with some form of disability that could affect how they browse the web.

    Ensure your content is compliant with Canada’s accessibility lawsAODA, specifically, if you’re in Ontario. Look to accessibility checklists for guidelines around alternative text (alt text), legible fonts, high-contrast colour palettes, video captioning, and more.

    For example, just by adding short, clear descriptions to the code of your images – AKA alt text – you’re helping visually impaired people using screen readers understand the content of those images. It’s an easy step your content and development teams can add to their processes. And bonus: it does wonders for SEO.
  • Inclusive language. Ever wonder why people still use words like “manpower” when more than half of Canadians don’t identify as men?

    That’s why inclusive language exists, to avoid words or expressions that might be gendered, biased, discriminatory (you’d be surprised how many everyday phrases have racist connotations), or generally problematic. It’s about being aware of your words and revising your content critically. Not sure where to start? Try the Government of Canada’s guidelines for inclusive writing.

Don’t wait to respect your audience.

Most people have a superficial relationship with brands to begin with. By not being inclusive in your marketing, you’re making it even harder to build meaningful connections with your audiences.

But keep in mind: your brand values (what you show the world) should be synonymous with your organizational values (how you operate). No amount of diversity in your sales collateral, for example, can replace measurable DEIA commitments. It’s how you build loyalty.

Still, some action is better than none, so don’t wait to champion DEIA in your marketing. Don’t let the fear of getting it wrong hold you back. People value brands that care about other people. If you’re authentic and consistent, and you leave room to listen and improve, your efforts should be well received.

Want to learn more about optimizing your marketing and communications? From accessibility to SEO to media planning and more – our team is here to help.

Contact us today to get started.



Touchdown or Fumble? Brand Consistency at the Big Game.

Once again, the ads run during America’s biggest sporting event are sparking a whirlwind of discussion. Some are calling them the best of the last five years. Others are disappointed, saying they lacked relevance or leaned too far into nostalgia skewed toward an older demographic.

Wherever you land on the field, you likely have a favourite or two. As brand integration consultants, we tend to reflect on the game-day commercials not in terms of favouritism but which brands were most faithful to their fundamental messaging.

After all, when the chatter dwindles, you’ve got to wonder which ads will be most effective in the long-run. Which will reinforce a brand’s core purpose and value proposition?

On that note, here are three that worked for us.

Dove’s Hard Knocks

Dove’s advertising is a masterclass in brand consistency, starting with its “Real Women” campaign in 2004, which drove sales by 700% in its first six months and earned the brand $150 million in free media time by 2007

Since, whether it’s redefining beauty or shining a light on mental health issues, Dove has been consistent with its message of superior care for all. This year’s spot is no different. 
The ad balances playfulness with an eye-opening resolution about girls’ self-esteem and confidence in sports. It’s clear Dove knows its brand, audience, and, most importantly, the values it wants to impart on viewers. 

Microsoft’s Copilot

Microsoft is on a mission to empower everyone to accomplish more. The brand says so itself, putting people at the heart of its purpose and focusing on a “mindset as opposed to a demographic.”

So, regardless of where you stand on AI, it’s hard to argue the link between the company’s mission and its new ad for Copilot, “your everyday AI companion.” The spot is a gritty underdog story grounded in defying the odds. It focuses on average people feeling galvanized to achieve their dreams with Copilot as their sidekick. And it lines up with the company’s promise.

Pfizer’s Here’s to Science

Firstly, isn’t it nice to talk about Pfizer outside the context of a global pandemic? In terms of its mission, the health-sciences company, founded in 1849, is in relentless pursuit of breakthroughs that change patients’ lives. In 2022, the company brought on its first CMO, Andreas Panayiotou, in an effort to focus on the storytelling behind the brand while still putting science first. 

Its ad, accompanied by Freddie Mercury belting “don’t stop me now,” celebrates 175 years of these breakthroughs. Better yet, it looks to the future, the next fight, and leaves viewers with an emotionally charged call to action. It’s safe to say the brand’s goal of entering into “a new era” is strongly represented, and it achieves Panayiotou’s goal of being modern, innovative, and patient-first. 

Here’s to the long game.

Big budgets, big celebs, big effects – the big game’s commercials are a tour de force, but what’s more important, a moment or a movement?

Yes, we all loved Arnold poking fun at his inimitable accent (talk about a good sport), and Michael CeraVe was downright hilarious. But is comedy always on brand? Is CeraVe funny any other time of the year?

Like football, brand building comes down to making incremental headway, and that comes down to building relationships and being consistent in conveying your value, beliefs, and purpose over time.

Ready to play the long game? Let’s uncover the truth of your brand and tell that story at every touchpoint. Contact us today to learn how.


campaigns - industry

Amplify Your Advocacy Efforts With Zembaly™

Canada has its work cut out.

From the climate emergency to food insecurity, labour shortages, gender inequity, and the housing crisis – to name a few – we’re facing mountainous challenges nationwide.

The good news? People across the country are endlessly advocating for change. We see it all the time – in the news, on the Hill, on social media.

But with so many voices vying to influence people in power, how can anyone break through the noise?

This is a question routinely shared among our clients in the third sector, including national and local non-profits, associations, and other, member-based organizations – each with its own agenda.

It’s an ongoing challenge to effectively engage elected officials on issues that matter. It takes a groundswell to impact change.

After more than two decades supporting our clients’ advocacy efforts, we saw an opportunity to bridge a gap in the online-advocacy market. The few platforms that existed were either restrictive in functionality or priced solely for heavy campaigning.

So, as a brand consultancy with specialized digital expertise, we built a new solution, one that would help organizations big and small more easily rally their supporters, connect their message to policy influencers, and, ultimately, amplify their voice.

Meet Zembaly, the easiest way to power change

Zembaly is a one-way communications tool that makes online advocacy easier than ever. With a few clicks, you can create, share, and track the performance of online advocacy campaigns, connecting your audience or members to federal and provincial government.

Zembaly solves some of the most common pain points associated with online advocacy. It empowers you to create change intuitively and conveniently. Here are a few examples of how the platform works for you.

Powerful customization

Other platforms offer limited functionally when building a campaign. Zembaly lets you visually customize more elements of your landing pages, further connecting your message to your brand. As well, you can set an expiration date, preview your campaigns for proofing or approval pre-launch, and easily run bilingual campaigns in both official languages.

An extension of your team

Not every organization has an advocacy or government-relations department. If you’re a small or mid-sized organization, Zembaly gives you a strategic advantage. It empowers you to swiftly mobilize support for your cause and get your message across with little demand on resources.

Tiered pricing

Some advocacy platforms can be expensive or exclusively subscription-based. Zembaly offers pay-per-use and subscription-based pricing, accommodating teams of all sizes. As well, the custom Enterprise plan is great for large organizations, like associations, that tackle multiple issues both federally and provincially.

Member engagement

Speaking of associations, it can be difficult, at times, to get your boards or chapters to advocate for big-picture issues. But every voice matters in ladering pressure up the Hill. With Zembaly, you can set up campaigns on behalf of your members – tailored to applicable provinces and representative types (including Senators, MPs, and MPPs) – making it easy for them to contribute to the groundswell.

Or, give your members their own version of Zembaly, a white-labeled tool to launch campaigns for issues closer to home. That’s added value when it comes time to renew their membership.

You’ve got a Hill to climb

We built Zembaly to put power in the hands of those who need it. Whether you’re a national association or grassroots underdog, our platform does the heavy lifting for you, offering a simpler, more flexible way to advance your cause in Canada.

Ready to fight the good fight? Learn more about Zembaly – including features like instant social media promotion and real-time campaign reporting.

Or, contact us today to discuss your specific advocacy needs. We’re ready when you are.


web design

The Ultimate Website Accessibility Checklist

Twenty years ago, digital spaces were far from the centre of business and commerce. But now, your company’s landing page is often the first touch point consumers have with your brand. This digital-first approach to commerce opens up an array of opportunities, but it also comes with the added responsibility of ensuring your website is accessible to all. Fortunately, all it takes is a few thoughtful and proactive measures. Our website accessibility checklist helps you meet Canadian standards, all while building a website everyone can navigate.

Website Accessibility: What It Entails and Why It Matters

Website accessibility is a straightforward concept—and it’s a requirement by law in many countries. It’s the practice of designing your site in a way that’s inviting and usable for those living with disabilities. Backend code functionality, brand design on landing pages, and more all play into creating an inclusive website.

Accessible web design is important not just because it can boost your reputation or engender customer loyalty, but also because human-centric business practices are an ethical necessity.

Failure to meet social responsibilities are damaging to your brand, which is bigger than marketing and communications, and, more importantly, discriminates against those left out.

So what goes into building a website that caters to a diverse audience? Let’s dive deeper into digital accessibility.

Your Checklist For Better Website Accessibility

This five-step checklist will help you implement several simple yet impactful changes to the accessibility of your website design. It’s your guide to digital inclusivity.

1. Mobile vs Desktop View

Remember to optimize both the mobile and the desktop experience. Companies that optimize their desktop design often overlook similar accommodations for their mobile website, yet many users land on your site first via a mobile browser.

Mobile designs should be simple and clean, with easily clickable calls to action (CTA) near the centre of the screen. Also, place navigation bars at the bottom of the screen to better account for the way most people hold their phones. 

Individuals with visual or reading impairments may use a screen reader to hear what’s written on your website. You can optimize your site for screen readers by keeping text both clear and descriptive, structuring your HTML with relevant tags—indicating the copy language in the lang attribute—and using ARIA roles. Sounds complicated. But don’t stress: this is common ground for experienced web designers and developers.

Finally, before you tick mobile optimization off your list, test your design with a diverse crowd to catch any potential oversights.

2. Alt Text

It’s likely your website includes images to add visual interest, context, or brand positioning elements. Imagine you’re navigating the site without these attributes. Would your experience live up to the same standard with just text? Unlikely. Which is why alt text is a critical component of digital accessibility.

Alt text is embedded in your code and describes the image to those using visual assistant technology like screen readers. Ideally, this text should be concise, descriptive, and a complete sentence. 

Check out the difference in quality between these examples and note how the final example adequately evokes the image just through text.

  • Bad = “Img.23457919”
  • Better = “Picture of a student looking into a microscope.”
  • Best = “A chemistry student wearing a white lab coat peers down into a microscope. They’re holding a yellow pencil and a pad of lined paper, taking notes of what they see.”

3. Font/Typography

The next item on your website accessibility checklist is choosing a clear, readable font. Prioritize legibility to ensure your messaging isn’t limiting your customers with visual impairment.

Select a typeface that’s easy to distinguish between characters. This means avoiding fonts that blend letters together or make distinct characters appear similar. Also, choose text that contrasts with your background to make reading easier. (More on typography here.)

4. Colour Palette

The importance of designing your website with highly contrasting colour schemes is hard to overstate. You’ve likely already incorporated certain colours into your branding campaigns and logo design—if so, keep your website consistent with this recognizable scheme. However, make sure you pair highly contrasting hues within that palette throughout your web design.

Playing with contrast not only makes it easier for visually impaired users to navigate your site, it also serves as an excellent design principle in general. If your current brand colours are low contrast, you might want to revamp your aesthetics to improve accessibility.

5. Compliance with Canadian Web Accessibility Laws

Your website accessibility checklist should ensure that you maintain total compliance with Canadian web regulations, such as the Standard on Web Accessibility, the Accessible Canada Act, and various regional protocols. Compliance not only legally shields your website, but also serves as a comprehensive de facto website accessibility checklist to improve your design.

Here’s a basic overview of some of the web design elements to help you maintain compliance with Canadian and regional laws:

  • Font readability for visually impaired website visitors
  • Clear section headers that provide structure
  • Resizable layout for multiple screen types
  • Colour contrast that helps design elements stand out
  • Captioning, transcriptions, and descriptions for any video content
  • Navigability via keyboard, rather than a mouse
  • Principles of accessibility applied to all digital documents or forms

Tick Off Your Website Accessibility Checklist With Alphabet®

One of the best ways to ensure that your website serves the needs of all potential users is to work with experts. Leading specialists in design and branding, like Alphabet®, help you create dynamic and engaging digital experiences that follow ACA and AODA guidelines (and the protocols of your province). Are you ready to reimagine your web design with inclusive design principles? We’re here to help with everything from brand strategy and identity to crafting your messaging for the digital age. Reach out today. Together, we’ll uncover the truth of your brand—so you can integrate, execute, and live it throughout your entire organization.



Media Planning 101: Goals, Channels, KPIs, and More

Deciding how to spend your marketing budget can place you in a paradox of choice. Do you lean into traditional or digital channels? Should you choose the better ad space at a higher price point for a shorter time? Or run a longer campaign for less upfront costs? Effective media planning can point you in the right direction.

It’s not just about purchasing ad space. Media planning is a holistic strategy in which you choose, implement, and monitor your marketing campaigns. In general, there’s a three-step process:

  1. Thoroughly research your target audience’s relationship with media and your brand
  2. With these insights, your media team creates specific and trackable goals for the marketing campaign. 
  3. Then, the creatives take the lead and develop your marketing assets. 

However, the messaging and design for the campaign must be consistent across channels to reach the target audience. It’s a delicate balance, keeping brand messaging consistent while capturing the nuance to perform well in each media channel. It’s also about speaking to the end-user’s pain point and providing a solution. 

Good media planning will connect your brand to your audience. When done well, it’s a powerful way to achieve an objective. It’s also a lesson on how to use your marketing budget efficiently. When you spend money intentionally, you see a better return on investment (ROI).

Consider this your guide to the media planning process. With more details for each step and an overview of the different types of media channels you might consider. So you can confidently build a media strategy for your marketing plan.

What Is Media Planning?

Media planning is the process of creating and implementing a media strategy for your business. In short, you identify your audiences and conduct research, identify the most relevant media channels and outlets, and develop a plan aligned with your business goals.

In media planning, marketers identify the how, what, who, and why of every decision. It’s the strategy the media team uses to select what channels are best to communicate with the audience and how best to use those channels.

A successful media plan boosts your ROI, increases brand awareness and brand loyalty, and supports your general brand strategy. It also serves as a road map that guides your marketing activities and maximizes the impact of your campaigns.

Media Planning vs Media Buying

Media planning and media buying are both part of a marketing campaign. However, media buying should be treated as a step in the larger media planning process.

Media buying refers to the action of purchasing ad space. In contrast, media planning includes all the steps for developing a strategy and implementing media use for a specific campaign. If your marketing team buys media space without detailed media planning, you’re likely leaving leads and conversions on the table and sacrificing your ROI.

The two go hand in hand. Detailed media planning leads to effective media buying. You’ll get the most out of your media purchasing power with a robust plan. That’s why organizations often work with a media team to craft an intentional plan for their media spaces.

Types of Media Planning Channels

When working within finite funds or resources, you’ve got to be picky about which media channels you invest your time and money into. From paid media to more organic marketing tactics, your chosen channels can make or break your marketing campaign.

The number of media channels available can be overwhelming. In general, channels fall into two categories: paid media and organic media. Here’s a list of the various types of channels to consider in your media planning, as well as the benefits we’ve found with each one:

Paid Media

Paid media often constitutes the bulk of your media plan due to the additional financial investment involved. A well-researched and strategic approach is crucial to ensure your resources are allocated efficiently and effectively.

  • Programmatic advertising uses algorithms to target specific audiences across various digital platforms. For instance, Airbnb leverages user behaviour and search history to display tailored advertisements. As a result, people who are more likely to book a stay see ads for the places they’re already researching. This method can be costly, but it provides a streamlined path to reach the individuals most likely to convert, maximizing your ROI. 
  • Pay-per-click advertising allows you to pay only when users click on your search ads and social ads, providing cost-effective targeting and measurable results. This is what happens when you click on a sponsored result on a search engine.
  • Television advertising, including ads on streaming services, remains a prominent paid media channel. It offers wide reach and the opportunity to captivate audiences through audiovisual storytelling. What’s more, streaming services provide more targeted options, so you can reach specific segments of your audience.
  • Radio advertising is another effective paid media channel, often complementing other forms of media to enhance campaign effectiveness. It offers a lower cost than television and can be strategically paired with other channels to reinforce your messaging and increase brand visibility.
  • Print advertising, while less popular than it once was, presents a unique advantage. Ads within publications often encounter less resistance from the audience, given the targeted nature of the readership
  • Out-of-home (OOH) channels such as billboards and posters, offer opportunities for high-impact, creative visual advertising in physical spaces.
  • Digital Out-of-home (DOOH) channels such as retail locations, buses, transit hubs, airports, elevators, and mall directories, opens up a plethora of digital placements.

Organic Media

Unpaid media channels, also known as owned or earned media, offer organic marketing opportunities with relatively lower costs than paid advertising. The two main types of owned media channels are social media and digital publications.

  • Social media platforms allow you to run your own accounts and target specific audiences with comparatively low startup costs.
  • Digital publications, such as blogs and email newsletters, provide direct tracking of conversion rates.
  • Earned media is the attention your business gets from reviews or media coverage. This type of media builds trust with your audience. You can reuse content from this category to inspire other paid or organic marketing campaigns.

Leveraging these channels in your media planning can enhance your brand’s visibility, engagement, and measurement of campaign success.

Steps in the Media Planning Process

No matter what type of media you choose, the goal remains the same: to optimize your company’s messaging across various channels. The media planning process encompasses a series of strategic steps aimed at achieving this objective:

  • Researching your target audience and conducting market analysis
  • Setting goals and choosing key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Selecting the right outlets
  • Allocating your budget effectively
  • Developing impactful messaging and creative
  • Strategically scheduling your plan
  • Continuously evaluating the campaign’s performance

In this section, we’ll provide insights into our process, starting with research and strategy formulation. We’ll also walk through goal setting, media plan implementation, and the ongoing process of analysis and refinement.

Conduct Audience Research

Conducting thorough target audience research is an essential step in the media planning process. From a brand development perspective, you should already have clear buyer personas that represent your target audience. However, understanding their demographics alone isn’t always enough.

To effectively plan your approach, you need to gain intimate knowledge of how your audience engages with various media channels. This requires studying existing data on your target audience’s media habits.

At Alphabet® Creative, our research includes examining which media outlets align with both the client’s goals and their audiences’ behaviours. We gather media kits and rate cards from each outlet and carefully analyze their suitability. Considering these specifics is vital in shaping a successful media strategy.

Formulate the Media Strategy

Developing a well-crafted media strategy is crucial for achieving optimal results in your marketing efforts. One of the key aspects of this strategy is selecting harmonious channels that work in synergy rather than duplicating efforts.

Instead of aiming for the same goal with multiple channels, it’s more effective to choose complementary channels that cater to different segments of your audience. For instance, if your product appeals to both casual and professional audiences, consider utilizing platforms like TikTok for a more casual approach and LinkedIn for a professional one.

It’s also beneficial to combine different types of media to create a cohesive experience. For example, pairing short-form videos with in-depth blog content allows for cross-referencing and engagement between the two mediums.

Crafting a media strategy typically involves three steps:

1. Consider Your Timeline

Determining the timeline for your media strategy depends on several factors, such as the nature of your offering, specific messaging goals, target audience behaviour, and budget constraints.

Consider the times of day when your audience is most active on each platform and schedule your posts accordingly to maximize visibility and engagement. Taking a broader perspective, start with the end goal in mind and work backward, identifying major touchpoints along the way that need to be addressed.

2. Understand Budget Limitations

Consulting with your leadership is essential to establish a realistic budget for your media plan. By involving decision-makers early on, you can ensure your plan aligns with available resources and avoids overambitious or inadequate planning.

3. Create a Media Plan Brief

Create a media plan brief to provide clear guidance and align all members of the marketing and media teams. This document should outline an overview of your media strategy, targeting criteria, chosen channels, communication tactics for each channel, and a timeline for implementing and reporting on your plan.

There’s no need to have every word of content pre-written, but the brief should establish the desired tone and arc of your content plan. By doing so, you can ensure every action you take executing your media plan is directionally cohesive, resulting in a more memorable, impactful campaign.

Determining Goals and KPIs

Outlining clear goals and KPIs is a vital step in developing a successful media strategy. KPIs are measurable metrics that help assess the effectiveness and performance of your media campaigns. They play a crucial role in media planning as they provide valuable insights and help fine-tune various aspects of your campaign – even down to the colour palette. Common KPIs include:


Your media campaign’s reach measures the number of people who see your marketing message as a percentage of the intended audience. This helps gauge the overall exposure of your campaign and its potential impact.

Frequency is another KPI that indicates how many times each individual will be exposed to your campaign. It helps determine the level of repetition needed to achieve your desired outcomes.


Continuity, or scheduling frequency, is another factor to consider when setting goals. It refers to whether your advertising will be continuous, pulsing, or flighting.

Continuous frequency is suitable for products or services that require ongoing reinforcement, while flighting involves running a campaign, pausing, and then resuming it after a hiatus. This approach is beneficial for limited budgets or seasonal offerings. Pulsing combines elements of both approaches.


Engagement KPIs are metrics used to measure audience interaction and involvement with media campaigns. These metrics provide insights into how effective your content is at driving meaningful engagement, brand affinity, and desired actions.

By monitoring engagement KPIs, marketers can optimize campaigns for higher interaction, audience satisfaction, and overall campaign performance. Examples of engagement KPIs include:

  • Cost per acquisition (CPA)
  • Conversion rate
  • Click-through rate (CTR)
  • Engagement rate (likes, comments, shares)
  • Average engagement time and bounce rate
  • Customer feedback


Cost-related KPIs are also essential considerations. When establishing your budget, you can track two KPIs: Cost Per 1,000 Impressions (CPM) and Cost Per Click (CPC). These metrics help you evaluate the cost-effectiveness of your media campaigns and optimize your resource allocation.


It’s crucial to be specific with each goal and KPI. Instead of a vague objective like “achieving a positive ROI,” you could set a certain percentage goal. For example, you might aim for an ROI of 800% with a $5,000 budget, which translates to creating $40,000 worth of sales. Our approach typically uses SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound).

Time Frame

In addition to defining goals and KPIs, it’s important to set a specific time frame for your campaign. This allows you to track progress and determine when to make adjustments or revamp your approach. Regular check-ins on each KPI during the campaign provide insights into whether you’re falling behind or exceeding expectations. Based on these assessments, you can consider tweaking your strategy to ensure optimal results.

By setting clear goals and identifying relevant KPIs, you can measure the effectiveness of your media campaigns, make data-driven decisions, and continuously optimize your approach for maximum impact and ROI.

Media Plan Implementation

When it comes to implementing your media plan, don’t just set it and forget it. You must also negotiate and buy ad space, create compelling content and design, and continuously monitor performance. This last step is especially critical.

At Alphabet®, implementation won’t start until everyone is on board. It’s essential to obtain client approval for the media strategy plan, ensuring universal buy-in. Once the green light is given, it’s time to set the wheels in motion. This includes:

  • Starting media buys
  • Aligning your omnichannel approach
  • Keeping a transparent budget
  • Preparing logistics for your creative team
  • Responding to the ups and down along the way

Media Buying and Negotiating

Buying media space is like a strategic dance, where you search for the perfect media outlets that resonate with your target audience and campaign goals. Negotiations come into play as you aim to secure favourable rates and placements that fit within your budget. It’s all about finding that sweet spot where your message reaches the right people at the right time.

Building strong relationships with media vendors is key, as it can open doors to better rates and prime ad placements. With effective media buying, you can increase the chances of your messaging having a lasting impact on your audience.

Strengthen Your Organic Media Presence

In addition to buying ad space, your team needs to have a comprehensive understanding of self-serve platforms for your owned media content. This knowledge empowers your team to effectively manage and optimize the performance of your owned media channels – social media accounts, email newsletter, blog, etc.

Budget Transparency

Creating a detailed budget breakdown is another crucial step in implementing a media plan. It allows you to track and account for every penny of your media budget, including data overlay, platform fees, ad serving, ad verification, optimization, creativity, and agency compensation.

Maintaining transparency in your budget also ensures clear visibility into expenditures and enables better tracking of success metrics and analytics.

Prepare Logistics for Your Creative Team

Paying attention to ad specifications is important as well. While detailed specifications may not be needed in the initial planning stage, having this information on hand will help you avoid playing catch-up when it’s time to post an ad or content.

Proper planning of ad specifications, including size, file formats, and other technical details supports the creative team and minimizes inefficiencies.

Be Adaptable

While media planning sets the foundation for success, it’s also important to monitor KPIs along the way and be willing to make strategic adjustments if necessary. Remaining flexible and adaptable allows for course corrections that can significantly impact your campaign’s outcomes.

By being proactive, monitoring KPIs, and embracing flexibility, your campaign stands a better chance of maximizing ROI, achieving goals, and running smoothly. What’s more, continuous optimization and adjustment ensure your media strategy remains effective in a rapidly evolving marketing landscape.

Measuring Success and Reporting

Measuring the success of your media campaigns is essential for evaluating their effectiveness and making informed decisions for future campaigns. Continuously tracking KPIs provides valuable insights into your achievements and helps identify areas for improvement in future media planning.

Whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly, regularly reviewing these numbers allows you to gauge campaign performance and understand the factors contributing to success or challenges. However, analyzing media data goes beyond just examining numbers; it involves extracting meaningful insights and using them to optimize future campaigns.

By identifying patterns, trends, and correlations in the data, you can gain valuable knowledge about audience behaviour, preferences, and the performance of different media channels. This information enables you to make data-driven decisions, refine targeting strategies, and allocate resources more effectively.

When reporting media performance to stakeholders, present the data clearly and concisely. Focus on key metrics that align with the campaign objectives and provide meaningful insights. Visual aids like graphs, charts, and infographics can enhance understanding and facilitate communication. In addition, provide actionable recommendations based on the data analysis, highlighting areas for improvement and strategies for future success.

Remember, analyzing media data is an ongoing process, helping you adapt your strategies, experiment with new approaches, and drive better results.

Nail Your Media Planning Strategy With Alphabet

When you realize the potential of media planning, you get better at generating leads, improving your brand image, and building lasting relationships with your audiences. By knowing what strategies to use and when to use them, an impactful marketing campaign is the result.

At Alphabet Creative, we understand the ingredients that make each brand stand out. We’re ready to put our brand development expertise to work for your organization. Contact us today to uncover the truth of your brand, so you can then integrate, execute, and live that truth throughout your entire organization.



Understanding Emotional Decision-Making and Its Role in Brand Strategy

As humans, emotional reactions influence almost every decision we make. If something feels comfortable, inspirational, or exciting, we’ll naturally lean in. But if something stirs negative emotions like anger, fear, or confusion, it can create a tunnel vision effect, closing our minds.

Emotion plays a significant role in decision-making, and understanding the science behind this can help shape effective brand strategies. Here, we’ll dive into that science – along with some tips for creating an authentic and emotionally clued-in brand that resonates with your audiences.

The Science of Emotional Decision-Making

At first glance, you may question the value of emotional decision-making when building a brand strategy. So for the logic lovers among us, here’s some of the science to back up our claims.

Emotions Empower Logic

Solid, logical numbers might seem like a better way to influence your audience – “Your donation provides 50 meals,” “Save 20% on this experience.” Emotions are subjective, whereas it’s tough to argue with cold, hard facts.

However, emotion and logic aren’t in conflict; they actually go hand-in-hand. Most people use logic to justify their actions, but they actually act emotionally. It’s like booking a fancy (and costly) AirBnb. You might justify the decision based on the positive user reviews, but deep down, you probably booked it to fulfill a sense of escapism, or a status fantasy, if only temporarily.

A study from Psychology Today revealed the connection between rational and emotional intelligence: people who perform better on intelligence tests are also better at using emotional information in decision-making. By leveraging branding to tap into people’s emotions, brands can create lasting connections and influence their decision-making process.

These lasting connections all start with attention. The philosopher and psychologist William James famously said, “what holds attention determines action.” When considering emotional decision-making in your brand strategy, think about how to hold your target audience’s attention. You can do this with what you say, how you say it, and what your brand looks like.

Creating Authentic Branding

Today’s savvy consumers can tell when you just want to close a deal – and they can spot snake oil a mile away. So it’s crucial that your branding stays true to who you are and what you stand for as an organization. When your marketing and communications come from a place of genuine authenticity, you’ll see your audiences respond with emotional decision-making. 

Tapping into people’s emotions can make them feel vulnerable. If people perceive any hint of phoniness, they’ll feel taken advantage of and stop interacting with your brand. By staying consistent with your brand identity, you can appeal to people’s emotions and remain authentic at the same time. Here’s how:

  • Show a commitment to your core values and brand pillars. Find the areas where you share values with your target audience to convey sincerity. This consistency should extend to the style, tone, and behaviours that make up your brand identity. 
  • Your brand identity encompasses the human personality traits a brand adopts, such as the happy-go-lucky, refreshing optimism of Coca-Cola or the rugged and rebellious image of Harley Davidson. Develop social media guidelines and design templates to maintain a consistent brand image without starting from scratch every time you publish new content.
  • Cultivate authenticity through experiences. Brand activations like events or conferences, guerilla marketing tactics, and other unconventional methods can provide brand exposure and connect your brand with positive experiences.

Creating an authentic brand is vital in today’s consumer-centric market. By staying true to your core values, maintaining consistency, and providing meaningful experiences, you can establish an authentic brand that resonates with your audience, fosters long-term relationships, and drives emotional decision-making.

Emotional Decision-Making in Your Branding Strategy

Clearly, emotions and trust influence buying patterns. But how do you apply this emotional decision-making approach to your branding strategy? By understanding how emotions influence behaviour, you can strategically tap into these emotions to create meaningful connections with your audience. 

Use these tips to integrate an emotional appeal into your brand strategy and build trust with the right people:

  • Get to know your audience segments. You’ll want to know the demographic characteristics of your stakeholders as well as their behavioural patterns. What type of language do they use? What’s important to them? Understanding these deeper desires can help you create a brand identity that resonates.
  • Use Visuals. Visuals play a powerful role in capturing attention; people process visuals 60,000 times faster than they process text. So, as soon as people see the colours and design elements of your brand, they make subconscious decisions and assumptions about your company. Beyond the visuals, ensure your content and offerings reinforce the same themes.
  • Create community. People love to feel like they’re part of something bigger. By using your tone, user-generated content, and social media interactions, you can foster a sense of community among your customers. When consumers see how your brand has positively impacted other people’s lives, they’ll envision how it will change theirs too. This appeals to people’s emotional need to be included.

Building these emotional connections takes time. As an organization, view your branding in terms of the relationships you have with your audiences. Appealing to their emotions involves reinforcing positive memories and continually strengthening the emotional bond. 

For more on emotional decision-making, check out Episode 7 of our podcast, Flipping Over Rocks.

Work With the Experts in Emotional Branding

Developing a brand strategy that encourages emotional decision-making lets you connect with your audience on a deeper level. It’s critical to understand their emotions, craft authentic messaging, utilize visuals and storytelling, foster engagement, and maintain consistency. Then, you can create a brand that resonates, inspires, and drives lasting emotional connections with your customers. 

How do you create a brand that pushes the right emotional buttons? Connect with Alphabet to uncover your brand identity. We take a holistic approach to brand development to help you build an authentic brand identity that moves your audiences both logically and emotionally.

Contact Alphabet Creative today to uncover the truth of your brand, then integrate, execute, and live that truth throughout your entire organization.



Brand Perception: Generating Brand Trust & Credibility

These days, it’s no longer enough to provide a quality product, service, or solution. Your audience needs to trust you – and trust is in short supply.

In fact, brand trust hit an all-time low at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and organizations are still reeling from the fallout: 75% of executives admit to having a harder time building and maintaining trust among their audiences. That’s why building brand perception is more important than ever.

By targeting perception as part of your brand promotion initiatives, you can create deeper connections with your audiences and earn their trust and loyalty. Use these branding tips and strategies to get started.

What Is Brand Perception?

Brand perception is the collective opinions and emotions people hold toward a brand. This is often shaped by the organization’s reputation and audience interactions, among other factors. Organizations measure brand perception using a few methods: 

  • Surveys: Conducting a quarterly brand perception survey can give you an idea of what your audiences think of your brand. These surveys often use metrics like a net promoter score (NPS) to quantify perception data and give you actionable insights.
  • Forums: Analyze online forums and message boards to get qualitative data on brand perception. This lets you see what your audiences are saying about your brand. It can also be instrumental in determining pain points you need to address or processes you can improve. 
  • Social Media Monitoring: Through social listening and monitoring tools, you can keep tabs on social media comments, news mentions, and similar audience sentiment. 

Positive brand perception is critical to building trust and credibility in today’s highly competitive market. It helps your brand become more recognizable through both visual elements like brand design and the values your organization stands for. In the long run, this can help you improve your brand reputation and reinforce your trustworthiness. 

What Is Brand Credibility?

Brand credibility refers to the believability of a company’s brand message. It’s the level of confidence people have in a brand to deliver on its value proposition. Many elements drive brand credibility, including: 

  • Expertise: You wouldn’t approach a brand that seems incapable of assisting with your specific needs. Position your brand as an expert in the field by demonstrating your industry knowledge. For instance, publish thought leadership content online.
  • Transparency: Be candid about your organizational practices, from your operations to your culture. Your audience will feel more connected to your brand, driving trust and loyalty. 
  • Consistency: Articulate your brand message as consistently as possible. Using too many variations in brand design and brand voice can confuse people and make it more difficult for them to recognize your organization and build trust. 

Why It’s Important to Prove Your Brand Message

Audiences don’t take kindly to empty words. So, as polished as your brand message may be, it will only serve its purpose in boosting brand perception, trust, and credibility if you can follow through with it; in fact, a 2021 survey showed that 88% of people rate trust as critical when choosing a brand, while 84% said the same about good brand reputation. 

With these stats in mind, provide proof of your brand message to establish the legitimacy of your claims. For example, if you position your technology as a life-changing healthcare solution, you’ll want to back that up with definitive science or research. Adopt this proof mindset as you build out your brand messaging framework.

Brand Authenticity: Walk the Walk 

We all know actions speak louder than words. Demonstrate your brand messaging not only in ads and marketing campaigns but also in practice. 

Perhaps one of the most popular examples of this is Dove Soap. Staying true to its mission to “redefine beauty standards,” the brand launched Dove Real Beauty in 2004 to promote the body positivity movement. The brand campaign featured stories of how real women struggled with impossible beauty standards. 

Remember, audiences trust brands that share their beliefs and values. Here are some brand strategy considerations and tips that can help you walk the walk and build a trustworthy brand: 

  1. Deliver on promises: Give your audiences experiences that meet or exceed their expectations to establish a positive brand perception. 
  2. Be transparent: 74% of people crave transparency from brands. Be honest about your pricing and how you conduct business. 
  3. Position your brand as a thought leader: Establish credibility by sharing industry knowledge through content marketing, participating in speaking engagements, and publishing valuable insights. 
  4. Collaborate with like-minded people: Align yourself with organizations or fellow companies that echo your brand values. 

Foster a Brand Consumers Trust 

Building a successful brand takes more than an eye-catching logo design and clever advertisements. An organization must develop an identity, foster brand perception, and deliver on its brand promise to earn the trust of its target audiences. By walking the walk, you can reinforce your organization’s credibility and secure solid brand positioning in the long run.

However, with the many elements involved in the process, building positive brand perception can be overwhelming. This is where Alphabet® Creative comes in. We offer a variety of brand development solutions that help brands discover their identities and communicate their purpose. Let us do the same for your organization.

Contact Alphabet® today to uncover the truth of your brand and then integrate, execute, and live that truth throughout your entire organization.